Jun 24, 2019 | Updated: 04:51 PM EDT

White House Climate Review Has Some Scientists Uneasy

Jun 09, 2019 11:11 PM EDT

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Scientists reacted sharply to revelations that the White House is discussing ways to potentially force federal researchers to debate the credibility of mainstream climate science, saying it threatens to pull experts into conspiratorial exercises that might harm their careers.

The pushback came as some White House officials try to formalize a "red team" debate to question the scientific studies that underlie the National Climate Assessment. The exercise is widely viewed among scientists as an attempt to confuse public perceptions about the impacts of rising temperatures.

The White House is considering whether to require scientists from NOAA, NASA or other agencies to participate in the review. The program would be run through the National Security Council and would be portrayed as a "correction" to the National Climate Assessment, according to sources involved in the planning.

Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist and professor of political science who was a lead author of the climate assessment, described the White House plan as a political effort that could harm scientists professionally.

"Forcing federal scientists to relitigate solid science that has been firmly established by thousands of peer-reviewed studies dating back over 160 years when many of these same scientists are already self-censoring themselves so as to not run afoul of agency politicals is an intimidation tactic that could conceivably be used to drive people out of federal positions or even ruin the careers of those who disagree," Hayhoe said. "True science is debated in the scientific literature, not in kangaroo courts set up by politicians with agendas that rely on muddying the waters and hiding the truth to succeed."

She said the "red team" should undergo the same level of scrutiny that was applied to the National Climate Assessment. The report was reviewed by federal agencies and underwent a public comment period. "Who feels that they understand the science better than over 400 federal and academic authors, experts at every relevant federal agency and the National Academy of Sciences, the premier scientific body of this country?" Hayhoe asked.

Gavin Schmidt is one scientist who was identified by White House officials as a possible participant in the debate. As the director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, Schmidt is a leading expert on climate change. He declined to comment on the plan and said no one has asked him to participate. "Nobody has actually approached me, and I'm not aware that anybody has approached my management to request my time to do this," Schmidt said.

It's not clear if NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine supports the idea of having a debate. As a Republican congressman, Bridenstine was a critic of climate science. However, since he took over the space agency, he has defended the agency's research into climate change.

The White House effort seems like a "show trial" that's designed to confuse public perception about scientists' confidence in human-caused global warming, said Bob Kopp, director of the Rutgers University Institute of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences and a co-author of the National Climate Assessment.

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